STUPID CLOWNS – How to convert a pdf into an epub

Ok people, strap in and bunker down – this is gonna be a long one. If you need to be home before dark, you might want to come back in the morning and get an early start.

In this one I’m going to go over some of the trials and tribulations I encountered while trying to convert a pdf ebook I created into an epub file. Read on for the whole sordid ordeal.


Since I ramble quite a bit in this one, and some people might be here just for the nuts and bolts of this thing, I decided I would make up a table of contents for those who want to just jump to the good stuff!

  2. Why is PDF so difficult?
  3. InDesign troubles and page layout blues…
  4. Conversion Nightmares…
  5. EPUB format – what is this thing, anyway?
  7. Issues I’d like to highlight
  9. Ibookstore via the Lulu way ’round
  10. EPUB AND BEYOND…to the Kindle!
  11. No Smashwords yet
  12. Link Roundup
  13. The Wrap Up

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About a year ago, I first came out with my very own Great American Novel, an opus of such magnitude that I feared other authors may just give up writing once they realized they could never match the skill and artistry of that book.

It was called How to Deal with Stupid Clowns who Don’t Know What the Hell They’re Talking About!

The ebook contained comics and humorous writing…but can writing really be funny if no one ever reads it?

When I made the book, I was coming at the whole thing from a blogging perspective, and all the blogging books I had seen and bought had been supplied in pdf format.

These were instructional type books that teach you how to get more traffic to your blog, how to make money via blogging, how to engage your audience and build a business through blogging, etc. Obviously the kind of stuff that would hopefully let you make money. People will put up with a lot of inconvenience if they think they can make some money.

Well, all my book does is tell you how to deal with stupid clowns.

Even though it’s a worthy cause, it was more for entertainment than for instruction (although the answers are in there). What I completely ignored was that by then people had been reading ebooks on their mobile devices for years, and they weren’t looking to deal with the hassles of wrangling a pdf onto their device of choice and just hoping it worked.

People just want to be able to find their choice of book on their favorite marketplace like Amazon or the iBookStore, then download it to their Kindle or iPad and be done with it.

No problem, right? It’s already in Adobe InDesign and PDF format. Can’t I just quick reformat this bad boy and be back in business?

Answer: No.


Why is PDF so difficult?
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If you’ve ever tried to convert a pdf into an epub, you’ve no doubt discovered that a straight-up 1-to-1 conversion is damn near impossible.

Conversion services routinely state that PDF is their least preferred submission format. If they even accept it at all, they might charge a premium fee for it.

But why?

Well here’s a couple of reasons:

  1. A PDF can be made from many different programs across many different platforms.
  2. A PDF can be made with many different options even within those disparate programs.
  3. Some PDF files end up being “secured” and can’t be edited or printed without a password. If you had a service or someone else prepare the pdf for you, this might be their procedure or they may think they’re doing you a favor, but the end result is it severely limits the options of what can be done with that pdf later on.

So depending on how it was made it can be difficult or impossible. You never really quite know what you’re going to get with that PDF until you (try to) open it up.

Some pdfs have “live” selectable text that you can copy and paste into another document, and then some have text that has been completely turned into an image. Nothing to be done there but try to find the source files, re-type it all, or try to use the Acrobat OCR (optical character recognition) to turn the image back into text.

While the Acrobat OCR has saved my butt a couple of times, I’ve never used it for a whole book, only a few paragraphs at most, and even then there were several errors to correct. If you’re going to have to pore over every sentence for OCR screw-ups then you might as well re-type.

Sometimes you might see live text, but on the same page the text surrounding an image is also converted into a picture. This really screws up all attempts at a clean conversion.

This happens because of a process called Flattening, and because the original document creator didn’t respect what’s known as the Stacking Order.

This stacking order turns out to be a huge impediment to epub creation. The funny thing is that this is a situation where the advanced features of professional level layout and design tools will seriously tank your epub efforts.

So the bottom line is, if your pdf is…

  • mostly (or all) text
  • non-secured (no password protection)

…a service will be able to convert it. There will no doubt be issues, but they should not be insurmountable. The problem then becomes that people expect their epub to look exactly like their pdf file (just give up on that), which in most cases is not possible unless you literally turn everything into a picture again.

Unfortunately for me, Stupid Clowns is a hybrid of my senses-shattering wit in text form and awesome artistry in comics format. Getting the two to play nice together in epub format was obviously going to cause me some extra work. Curses!

For the most part, you WILL be putting in some elbow grease in order to convert the file.

InDesign troubles and page layout blues…
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So, it was back to the drawing board for me.

When I began putting Stupid Clowns together, of course I used Adobe InDesign. That’s what it’s for, page layout for long documents (Stupid Clowns is 80 pages).

At the time, my final output goal was a pdf file that I could sell on the e-junkie shopping cart service.

This posed absolutely no problem for me, as I had been using the program for almost 10 years and was familiar with most of the ins and outs.

But as it turned out to be the wrong method for the audience I was going for, and I had to backup. Even so, I wasn’t worried at first, since I figured “this is InDesign, professional level software, they must have a way for me to export this to epub.”

Well, they do, and they don’t.

As I discovered at first, you can indeed just choose Export>Epub or “Choose Export Book to Epub” from the Book Palette, then set the options in the following screens and hit export, but doing this will almost certainly not result in a good looking epub that you can submit anywhere for sale.

UNLESS…you’ve set up your file correctly already. If you didn’t start from the very beginning with the intention of exporting to epub, then I’d hazard a guess that your InDesign file isn’t set up correctly.

When I say “set up correctly”, here’s a few of things that can really gum up the works for you in your InDesign file:

  1. Text boxes. If you’re familiar with page layout programs, you’ll know that you can just draw out a text box, load some text into it, then draw out another text box and load text into that one, make them as big as you want and position them wherever you need them to go on the page.They don’t necessarily have to be connected, as they exist separately and don’t necessarily affect each other.This represents a huge problem for epubs. They don’t like text boxes just floating around anywhere in the document. Epubs want one unbroken stream of text (although you can have separate chapters). So even though you can have separate pages and separate text boxes, they’ll all have to be linked together so the text flows from one box to the next, or else it will come out all jumbled up in the epub.

    Needless to say, Stupid Clowns was not set up this way.

  2. Picture boxes. This is virtually the same story as the text boxes. Normally in InDesign, you’ll draw out a picture box, load a picture into it, then move it around on the page independent of the text.Most times I’ll have all my images on a separate layer, then set the Text Wrap feature so the image forces the text to flow around one or more edges of my image.Of course, this is a deal-breaker for a good-looking epub out of InDesign. You can’t have free-floating picture boxes, they need to be placed “inline” with the text.

    This means you have to cut that picture box, then place your cursor in the text where you need the image to appear, and then paste it in there so that it flows along with the document.

    Stupid Clowns had images dropped in all over the place, so naturally that came out looking like a dog’s dinner.

  3. Items on top of each other. So by now you’re getting it. Nothing can be on top of something else. It all has to be right in the same flow right next to each other or “inline” with each other. If you have elements like this in your document, converting it to epub will cause the all the stacked items to pop out one after the other, screwing up whatever layout you had going on.In Stupid Clowns, I had background images, footer images, a stylized table of contents and another stylized author page that were hit hard in the export. The graphics were chopped up and spread out all over the place. There was no way I could try to sell something looking like that.
  4. Book format (separate files cause extra trouble). I used the InDesign Book Palette feature for Stupid Clowns. This means that each chapter of the book was a separate InDesign document that I collected together using the Book Palette. It’s a powerful feature that lets you organize the book more efficiently than one long document, in my opinion.The problem here was not so much with the InDesign export (which was already hosed no matter what), but with the way the book files are set up in InDesign. All those separate files meant I was going to have to combine them to get the necessary unbroken stream of text. At least you can always export your book to epub, so if it’s set up right you’re fine.

In my case with my ebook, since I wasn’t going to be using InDesign to make my epub, I needed to get that text, and as a book it was all broken up into many separate files. I would have to go back to each file and copy the text out of it, or do what I opted to do, which was export my book as pdf (without images), and copy the text from the combined file to a new text document. See my method below for saving out the text from a pdf.

If you’re starting out and you have lots of images, avoid InDesign unless absolutely necessary. Unless you’re willing to structure your document from the start in the correct manner or spend the time to go revise your existing file. Basically you’ll have to work against the usual layout/design paradigm anyway to create a viable epub so you might as well not use it.

Here’s a shot of what my table of contents is supposed to look like as laid out in InDesign (click on it for a larger view):

And here’s what happened when I used the Export Book to epub feature (click for larger view):

I used Adobe Digital Editions to view these epub files on my computer, by the way…

If you do want to start (or continue) with InDesign here’s a link to a video explaining how to set up that InDesign file the right way. It’s using version CS5, but the basic principles are the same, even if the export options are now different.

If you have InDesign CS 5.5 (I’m using InDesign CS5), you have a few new options in the epub export screen that might help, check out this Adobe video for the details:

New Export Options for EPUB in InDesign CS5.5

Also, here’s a link to a great pdf outlining the best practices for setting up your InDesign CS 5.5 file for export to epub:

Preparing your InDesign files for ePub export

I read this over and it would have been great for me if I was starting a new file in InDesign.

Conversion Nightmares…
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My initial plan was to export that sucker out of InDesign. But the resulting epubs didn’t look good at all. I learned why of course, but for now it wasn’t an option.

I decided I was going to have to find a tool that could do it, or hire someone to pull this off.

To that end, the first thing I did after Googling a bit was download the e-book management software Calibre e-book management software. It was always recommended on the forums I was reading, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

The result? Although it was indeed able to open and convert the file to an epub, it looked just as bad, if not worse, than when I exported it from InDesign.

Calibre did the best it could, but my pdf file was just way too complex for it to convert to epub in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

I tried the program on a couple of text only rtf files, plus some with some scattered images, and it did convert in a much better looking manner. There were some things to clean up but they would have been acceptable if that was what my file was created in.

But about PDF’s? Well, read what the Calibre documentation itself has to say:

To re-iterate PDF is a really, really bad format to use as input. If you absolutely must use PDF, then be prepared for an output ranging anywhere from decent to unusable, depending on the input PDF.

YUP. They got it exactly right.

Keeping in mind the image shown above of what the table of contents is supposed to look like, here’s what happened when I ran the pdf file I had through Calibre (click for a larger view):

So that was a disaster. After seeing this I knew Calibre was not the way to go, at least for me.

Another one I often saw discussed was Sigil WYSIWYG ebook editor. So I hopped over and grabbed that. As I discovered, Sigil is an editor for when you already have your epub file, or for creating the epub out of html files.

Not *exactly* what I needed, but I thought maybe I could edit the epub I got from InDesign or from Calibre.

NOPE. Although it does work great, it’s not the type of editing that I needed to do to the file. Converting a pdf in this manner is pretty much beyond the scope of any application I’ve found so far.

So at this point I railed at the heavens while thunder and lightning wracked the four walls of the dilapidated hovel I call home.

“Can’t somebody else do this for me?!?”

Waitaminnit. That sounds like a great idea…the skies cleared…

After that I checked out a few conversion services, but the prices were too high for my liking. Little did I realize that many of those “high” prices were justified, considering the work involved.

Looking to get the job done cheaply, I did what everyone does when they’re searching for cheap labor – I wandered onto and engaged 3 providers on there to convert the Stupid Clowns pdf.

The first one I got back looked just as I’d come to expect – a jumbled up mess. The vendor had taken my pdf, opened it up in Calibre and simply hit convert, returning me the exact same mess I’d gotten myself from using Calibre.

I let him keep the money. As I looked over his gig description, he said he’d provide me an epub, he never said the epub would be beautiful.

The second guy messaged me after I sent my pdf. He, too was using Calibre and I could tell from his message he didn’t understand why it was coming out all jumbled.

“Do you have DRM assigned to the designed pdf? or any kind of digital management inserted into formatting? My Calibre conversion is placing images and text all over the place when converting to epub…usually only happens when something was formatted with drm inserted…can you send in word or html or another format so i can disect the coding..”

Well I did send it to him as another format. I had saved html from the pdf that I’d created from InDesign. He took that and made an epub from it, but it didn’t really look the way I wanted. This wasn’t the fault of this vendor, since I had a very complex book that had to work in a certain way.

I also let him keep the money, as he tried much harder than $5 warrants and did provide me with an epub file.

The last guy I used took one look at the file and flat out said he couldn’t do it, so I got my money back on that one. Hey, at least he was honest.

Eventually I realized that I was just going to have to shut up, learn how these epub files were made and do this thing myself. Damn damn damn. I actually had to do work myself…what a sad day.

EPUB format – what is this thing, anyway?
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Some of you may have noticed that I kept harping on how everything has to be inline, nothing can be on top of each other.

Hmmm. Very suspicious. What does this sound like to you?

If you said HTML, then you’re right on track.

I finally decided I was just going to have to code this thing myself, so I went looking for some instructions and a description of what coding an epub file actually entails.

Here’s the deal: these epub files are not much more than some xhtml and CSS 2 files collected together in a zip container (I’m referring to the epub 2.0 spec here, not the 3.0).

What? Is this what I was afraid of this whole time? Html and Css?? I should’ve had this done last year. I found some great info on how to create the epub file. But hold on – I still had this pdf issue to deal with, right?

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As I mentioned above, what I decided to go with was the final pdf exported from InDesign. So what follows will be my guide for taking a pdf and getting that content into epub format.

While I could go back to my InDesign text and source files, some people might only have a pdf that was supplied to them by some person or service and not have access to original files.

If that’s the case -then let’s do this thing!

1. Get the text from your pdf file.

As long as your pdf isn’t secured, anyone can do this for free since you can do it from the free Adobe Reader.

In order to save out the text from the pdf:

  1. File>Save as Text… from Adobe Reader. This will generate a plain text file for you.
  2. From any page, select all (Edit>Select All) then copy (Command/Control-C) and paste into your favorite text editor.

When I say “text” editor” I don’t mean programs like Microsoft Word and it’s many clones. Make sure you use something like TextWrangler on the Mac or Notepad++ on Windows.

These programs don’t allow formatting, so any lingering styles from the pdf will be erased. If you must, you can use TextEdit on the Mac, but make sure it’s in “Plain Text” mode first (Format>Make Plain Text or Command Shift T).

Speaking of formatting, using either one of these methods won’t result in a perfect file for you to make your epub from. Specifically, the line breaks will be all messed up in your new text file.

None of the text will be wrapped correctly for your purposes. Everywhere that text wraps in your pdf will likely show as a line break (return character) in your text file, so no doubt you’ll need to eliminate a lot of extra line breaks from the file.

If you’re handy with search and replace functions, you can probably have the file cleaned up in a short time by searching and replacing those line-break characters. If not you’ll just have to go through it and fix it up by hand. Any text that was off in a separate text box will be lumped in there…somewhere. Be careful of stray text like this.

Page numbers are especially annoying. As they’re incrementally increasing numbers, it can be hard to do a search and replace on them, so you might also have to go through and delete those by hand.

Hopefully you didn’t write a 600-pager, though…

2. Get images from the pdf file.

  1. If you have Acrobat Pro then I simply choose Export>HTML>HTML 4…the actual HTML is irrelevant and you can delete it later, but what’s important is that doing it this way create a handy folder of all the images in the document for you, so it’s that easy.Acrobat X actually has it’s own Extract Images command under Tools>Document Processing>Export All Images. I don’t use this version but it’s probably (hopefully) straightforward from there.
  2. The best FREE way to do this if you don’t have the full version of Acrobat is to use this website: – free service that will extract text and images from pdf’s up to 10mb
  3. If you don’t have Acrobat and your pdf is over 10mb (mine certainly is), then you can choose option C, which is to go to and buy my or someone else’s gig for extracting the images from a pdf.FALLBACK OPTIONS:Failing this you’ll have to either:
  4. Download a trial version of Acrobat to use for 14 days or so.The caveat with this method is that there is no trial version for the Mac. Damn damn damn.If none of this is do-able…
  5. Hire me from my own Fiverr gig for extracting images from PDFsOR
  6. Pester someone you know that has Acrobat to go and do this for you.

3. Organize that text!

For your final epub file, you’ll want to have your chapters separated into separate documents. The reason for this is that when loading your file in iBooks or whatever, that first chapter can load right away and be available to the reader while the rest of the files load up.

When I made my first version, I just made one long xhtml file, and the darn thing took forever to load. My book is pretty big thanks to the images, but even if yours isn’t it’s probably best to do it this way.

Although you might want to clean up all the text first and make all your sweeping find/replace changes while it’s still one document instead of repeating the changes in all files. Whichever way works best for you is how you should do it.

4. Set up the structure of your epub file.

The very best source I found for how to set up that epub file is a well-written tutorial over at Jedisaber’s website:

Now, I don’t want to just drop that link and run, as if I don’t want to put full instructions here and I’m passing the buck. However, his tutorial is too long to reproduce in its entirety here, and even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t want to rip him off and not give him the credit for his hard work.

I was able to easily understand how to format the files, but that may be because I’m well versed in HTML and CSS already. If you’re not familiar with that kind of coding then it may be more difficult at first for you to get the nuances down. If you’re going this alone, do yourself a favor and read through the entire thing.

He’ll cover things in here like creating the linkable table of contents, and creating the correct folder and file names. He also has a sample document to download. I started using his provided sample, myself. I’ll show you what the Stupid Clowns epub file listing looks like:

In addition, the Jedisaber tutorial explains best practices for your cover image. It’s not exactly nailed down in the spec so you’ll need to cover all the bases.

5. Adjust Expectations.

Something to be mindful of is that your epub file will most likely not look like your pdf. Remember, we’re essentially looking at html files here, so font choice and layout options will be limited.

If your pdf depended on complex, non-standard or even regular print page-layout techniques, you might end up disappointed with the final look of your ebook. It’s important to remember that the user’s convenience is the paramount issue here. They need to be able to navigate your book in the most simple and efficient way possible, as well as adjust the size of the font and in some cases change the font entirely.

You’ll likely have to give up on set-in-stone layouts done for the print or pdf versions and just accept the limitations of the medium (for now).

Issues I’d like to highlight
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The Jedisaber tutorial explains this in greater detail, but basically although creating the container “.epub” file is a straightforward process on Windows, on the Mac it can be an issue.

The problem is that “mimetype” file you see in the listing needs to stay separate *within* the zip/epub. You can do this on Windows because when you create a zip, you can still drag in items (like the mimetype file) later as if it were a folder.

On the Mac, once you zip something, that’s it. You can’t add anything else to it. So if you zip up everything at once, then the mimetype file doesn’t remain distinct, it just gets mushed all together and the epub file fails.

So you either have to use Paralells and load up your Windows XP partition to do this, or follow the Jedisaber advice like I should have in the first place and download the applescript from this forum thread (take some time to read through the thread as well, some good stuff in here):

This way you just drop you folder right on top of the applescript icon, and it knows how to zip up the mimetype and the rest of the files separately in archive. Then you’re all done – sweet!


There’s 3 widely used options for checking your epubs, ultimately deriving from the same source:

  1. Most tutorials I found direct you to a free epub checker. It’s actually called “epubcheck” and it will sort through your file to make sure that everything is up to code. The Jedisaber tutorial also directs you here, so off I went.The problem is, like everyone else, it links to the Google code project hosting site to get the program. This seems like the natural thing to do, but when you get there you’ll find that the code is just that -code. It needs to be compiled before it can be used. From the site:

    Note that you must be able to run Java from the command-line and be familiar with command-line tools to use this effectively.

    Aw, maaaaan. I’m too lazy for all that. Frankly, I’m surprised the team just left it out there in command line like that. The code page says “Initial EpubCheck development was largely done at Adobe Systems.” Why wouldn’t they just have someone slap a rudimentary GUI on this thing and be done with it? Another mystery…

  2. If you have a file that’s less than 10mb you can go here:, Stupid Clowns is larger than 10mb, so it’s not an option for me. Back to Google code, right? Although I’m not an expert at this stuff, I’m sure I *could* manage to get it running from the command line -but why should I? That brings me to the last option.
  3. epubchecker APP. I figured someone somewhere had solved the problem already, and they did. It’s called the Rainwater-Soft epubchecker. Check this link: is a downloadable app for Mac, Windows and Linux. Even though it states that it uses an older version of epubcheck from that Google Code Library, the files that I’ve cleared with it have all passed with flying colors.

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Even when your formatting is basically correct, there may be some issues you need to clean up. I found a wealth of information on epubs and ebooks in general on these sites. – technical tips and such – marketing, tech tips and general discussion

ePubpub – an epub conversion service provider with some good blogs.

Specifically, I had serious issues with pagebreaks in Stupid Clowns. As it contain a hybrid of comics and writing, I couldn’t just let the text and images flow where they wanted to. Sometimes my comics would be split in half, and not in an aesthetically pleasing way.

There’s a lot of suggestions on this page:

Goodbye Widows and Orphans, or yes you can force page breaks in ePub

Although some of the suggestions worked, what worked for me consistently was this code in my stylesheet:

.pagebreak {

display: block;



So I would add a class of “pagebreak” to any element I wanted to appear at the TOP of its own page no matter what, regardless of how much space was left over on the preceding page. It would look like this:

<p class="pagebreak">You steel yourself, and head up the hilly path to meet the stupid clown.</p>

So the line that reads “You steel yourself, and head up the hilly path to meet the stupid clown.” will always appear at the top of the page.

I was able to add the class to images as well, so all my comics that should be fullscreen always start at the top of the page and fill the space as they should rather than being split into sections and looking bad.

Ibookstore via the Lulu way ’round
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So once it was finished, I had to get this thing onto the iBookstore.

After doing a little reading, I decided to submit it through for now. The biggest reason I did this was that I didn’t feel like paying for the ISBN number up front. Apple requires your book to have an ISBN number unless you’re giving it away for free.

You can check here to buy ISBN numbers:

The “Publisher Services” link looks to be the cheaper option, as they appear to have some sort of deal with Bowker to sell these ISBN’s.

Either way, I didn’t use these services, I had Lulu assign me one for free. However, this means that Lulu is going to get their cut of your sales.

So if you sell on the iBookstore, Apple will take their share, then Lulu will come along right after them and take their cut from whatever’s left over. You have to decide if that’s right for you.

Oh yeah, Lulu also puts you up on the Barnes & Noble site, so your work will be available to the Nook owners, too.

IMAGE TIP: I had a major setback with Stupid Clowns appearing on the iBookstore. It languished for a month and never showed up. Finally I got in contact with Lulu and they told me my images were too large and so Apple rejected it as per their restrictions -images can’t have more than 2 million pixels:

No one informed me of the rejection, but it was taking so long I had to go looking for answers. Keep this in mind –you don’t get an auto generated rejection or anything, and Lulu will put up one of those “this book available on iBookstore” graphics even if it’s not really available. So if it seems like it’s been a long time (I guess average wait is two weeks) then you should definitely contact someone.

It took me 5 minutes to revise the images and re-submit, but it was another two weeks before it finally became available. Lesson learned! Make sure to check all guidelines before you submit, no need for potentially costly delays if you can avoid them.

Since I was going the Lulu route, I picked up this guide to formatting your epubs for submission to Lulu (and by extension, the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble):

EPUBS for Lulu: A (Idiots) Guide to Creating EPUBs

The epub sailed through Lulu’s submission process using this book. While it didn’t alert me to the large image problem with Apple, that’s not really within the scope of the book, so I’m not crying foul on that.

EPUB AND BEYOND…to the Kindle!
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But it’s not over. Since I got Stupid Clowns successfully converted to epub, it was then time to take things one step further and get it hooked up on Amazon.

To do this, I used the Amazon KindleGen program in order to create Stupid Clowns in a .mobi format. Although I read from a Mobile reads thread that many prefer to use Calibre for this:

KindleGen vs calibre (

Also see this mobilereads thread: KindleGen: Epub to Mobi conversion

However, KindleGen worked just fine for me. It has a previewer that worked great in my Kindle for Mac app and also my Kindle app on my iPhone. The previewer showed exactly what they were going to look like. I was really impressed by how accurate it was.

I submitted it to Amazon and it was up there in less than a day. Wow!

No Smashwords yet
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A few folks asked me about submitting my work to Smashwords.

I took a look at their submission requirements and I decided to pass for now. Smashwords requires that you submit a properly formatted Microsoft Word file to them for conversion into all the formats (they have a free Smashwords style guide outlining the styles).

Well, I don’t work in Word. I never really have and I wasn’t willing to start now. Plus at the end of this little journey I just didn’t have it in me to go back and reformat Stupid Clowns into a Word file for Smashwords. Why Smashwords doesn’t take a correctly formatted epub is the question many seem to have.

I did read that Smashwords should be accepting the epub format as a submission option in late 2012. I’ll revisit them when they do.

I did find a very interesting dissection of the Smashwords “meatgrinder” submission process here:

Why doesn’t Smashwords accept EPUB files?

Apparently Smashwords is using Calibre to convert those Word files? Maybe Calibre can’t “pass-through” an already correctly formatted epub or something? it is a mystery…

Link Round Up
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Ok, for those of you who skipped around or may have missed a link or two, I’ve collected all the links I referenced right here for easy reference.

Sell PDFS:

InDesign Links

Conversion Links

XHTML/CSS format Links


Epub set up links



Buy ISBN numbers:


Kindle Links

Smashwords links

The Wrap Up
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Man, I tried everything to get this pdf to epub thing working, but sometimes you have to go off the beaten path to get the help you need. It turns out my Facebook group wasn’t much help.

I don’t know what that chick’s problem is. Forget her. I draw comics, that means I can have any woman I want!!!1!

At least, that’s what my Mom says…

But yeah, that’s not really within the scope of this article. So, that’s all folks – we’re finally done! Let’s wrap this thing up, and those of you who made it all the way down here, I salute you. Hopefully you got something out of this that you can use to your benefit.

As you can see, although PDF’s were a godsend when they first hit the scene, they’re a bit of a minefield in this situation.

My Stupid Clowns ebook definitely suffered by being released only in PDF format, and I suspect the very fabric of our society unraveled a bit because of it. For that, I apologize…but it’s out there now so the civilized world can breathe easy now.

Aside from that, I’d say if you’re bedeviled by your own seemingly un-convertible pdf and thinking of taking on this sort of a challenge, you’ll definitely have to put in some elbow grease, but it can be done! Make sure to look over that Jedisaber tutorial closely. I’d actually recommend that even if you don’t plan on doing it yourself, it never hurts to have some knowledge of the format -at least then when you hire someone they can’t pull the wool over your eyes.

And as usual, let me know if you guys have any questions or comments for me. I’m not a certified expert but I just might have an answer for you if you get stuck.

So finally, I’ll leave you guys with a look at the fruit of my labors, the first chapter of How to Deal with Stupid Clowns who Don’t Know What the Hell They’re Talking About!

You can read it right here or you can download either the pdf, epub or Kindle version:

Download Stupid Clowns First Chapter – PDF version

Download Stupid Clowns First Chapter – epub version

Download Stupid Clowns First Chapter – Kindle (.mobi) version

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25 thoughts on “STUPID CLOWNS – How to convert a pdf into an epub

  1. Sweet mother of guacamole. I had to skip to the end and dash off this thank-you, John. I am currently designing a cutting edge game magazine that, much like your Magnum Opus, will cause future game magazine makers to give up in despair of ever matching my level.

    Or maybe not. Because I was struggling in Scribus…the open-source clone of InDesign.
    First off all, I DON’T have 10+ years experience with layout and so, I am clueless. Secondly, I was going under the assumption that a magazine would look better if I used a professional layout program. However, when I thought about your audience comment, I realized something:

    PDF is probably perfect for my magazine. LOL

    So, thanks, man. I’m chucking Scribus and using the free space for NASA images.



    1. Hey Mitch, thanks for hanging in there with this long post, lol!

      I didn’t know you were doing a gaming magazine, you’ll have to shoot me an email on that and fill me in. I’ve never used Scribus, but I’m sure I can help if you have layout issues.

      And yeah, you’ve gotta always be thinking of that end user experience. Are you planning on supplying a physical copy via one of the print-on-demand magazine sites?

      1. Hey John, I sent you a mock-up and, yes, I have grand delusions of people lining up outside of Comcast to buy my … waitaminnit. On-demand PRINTING? Erm, yeah. That’ll work.



  2. Thanks for the useful tips, I am a newbie to InDesign, but I want to put my portfolio with the Adobe package together. At the beginning I tried it with Illustrator, but it doesn’t allow the multipage editing. InDesign must be the right choice for me, but it seems to be too complicated for me.

    1. Well it’s all complicated at first :)

      Once you dig in there you’ll be surprised how quick you’ll pick it up.

      If you go that way make sure to regularly check the “InDesignSecrets” website I linked to in the article, you’ll be glad you did.

      Thanks for commenting!

    2. There is also Quarks as an alternative to Indesign. I switched to Indesign on a big project and the slow down factor was VERY frustrating, but afterwards I never felt compelled to return to quark. A word of warning though because I needed to move software from machine to machine and I found Quarks copy-protection scheme to be intolerable. Perhaps things have changed in that regard since I switched. I was also VERY angry about $600 upgrades for VERY unstable software back in the v5 & v6 days. If you dont have time to deal with the learning curve and need to use old files then DO stay with Quark, but at least say thanks to Adobe for putting a competitor out there to force quark to deploy reasonable pricing and to have incentive to make a more solid product.

      1. Hey Jack, yeah Quark lost a lot of people within that time.

        They wanted to charge us a license for our desktops and laptops, when normally companies like Adobe would give you a pass on your laptop.

        They found out the hard way what can happen when you don’t please the customer, that’s for sure!

  3. Excellent guide, links … all of it! I gave up on an EPub conversion earlier, but have successfully done the Kindle conversion so figured I would try the EPub conversion again sometime soon. The images complicate matters every time!

    I’m passing this along for sure – it’s an excellent resource!

    1. Hey Katrina!

      I gave up so many times it’s ridiculous, so I feel your pain.

      Yes those images are the bane of any epub, but as long as you recognize the limitations you can pretty much get anything in there.

      I’m really glad you got something out of this, I hope it helps you!

  4. I read almost the entire post because since I bought a kindle I had to convert PDFs into mobi several times.
    Before reading this I never thought it was so complex, because I always avoided pdf files without selectable text.
    Now I know … it was a good idea to avoid them.
    However, your book looks great in kindle, congratulations.

    1. Hey Ivan, yes you had the right idea to avoid them if possible lol.

      Thanks for reading and also for checking it out on the Kindle!

  5. I must read this article a couple months back, it would be very useful for me. I tried multiple ways but ended up vain. I loved your way of writing John, especially the cartoon :D. Thanks for the big *useful* information

    1. Hi Peter, thanks for reading man.

      I tried and gave up many times myself. Keep on pushing at it until you finally get it down, that’s the only way. Hopefully some of this info can help you out!

  6. My goodness, what a trial! I know I wouldn’t be putting that kind of effort into it; not even close. I’d have to pull the bucks together and have someone else do it. Are you now giving it away for free?

    1. Hey Mitch, yes it was like the 12 Trials of Hercules…except he had it easy – he never heard of epub files!

      If you mean the book itself, I’m selling it for $1.99 now, and even though I’m now offering an epub conversion service, I would think that most could use the info in this article (and the links) to create their own.

      Not everyone will have a bunch of images like me so it will be more straightforward (unless it’s from a pdf lol).

      Although if people are short on time and would rather pay me to do it I can work with that :P

  7. JG, this was the longest post I’ve read through last few months! I don’t regret the time I spent on it, it was worth it. I even saved it in my bookmarks, just in case..
    To tell the truth, I never faced this problem before and after reading this I can tell that it’s not that hard as it seems to be. It’s all thank to you))

  8. JG!

    Really funny concept with those funny Facebook conversations with stupid clowns. Do they take you long to make?


  9. HI JG,
    This give me full tips about PDF file very complete and very understandable, before i always lazy to make a PDF file. Thank you so much for your post.

  10. It was a longer post I have ever read..altough it was informative as it has alot about pdf.I loved your way of writting and including funny concept.

  11. ” It’s ME, U.S. President Barack Obama! If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate you not drawing me into any more of your comics. I’m trying to win an election this year!” This is the best one))
    Now you can draw him freely) For him to get nervous and for us to mock him)

    1. Yes I can certainly start drawing the Pres. again, but now that he has nothing to lose, there’s nothing to stop him from “disappearing me”…GULP…

      …thanks for reading!

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